HOW MUCH CAN THE CALIFORNIA BUDGET BE CUT?….A few weeks ago I wondered online about how much of the California budget was legally mandated. In other words, out of our current $98 billion budget, with its $24 billion shortfall, how much are we legally allowed to cut?

Ann Salisbury pointed me to an LA Times story yesterday that answered ? or tried to answer ? this question. In case you’re curious, here’s the bottom line:

  • “Technically mandatory” spending is about 90% of the budget. However, although legally mandated, much of this could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the legislature (which is the same margin required to pass the annual state budget).

  • “Sort of mandatory” spending, a hodgepodge of guesswork and common sense about what is reasonably discretionary and what isn’t, appears to be around 66% of the budget.

  • “Absolutely mandatory” spending is 26% of the budget. Examples include bond payments, stuff that’s either constitutionally or federally mandated, and court-ordered outlays.

So the real answer is “who knows?” I guess I should have expected this.

POSTSCRIPT: And for all of you “out of control spending” fans, here’s a quick summary of California’s historical budget. During the decade from 1982-1991 the per capita state budget increased about 2.6% per year (adjusted for inflation). During the decade 1992-2001 the per capita budget increased about 1.6% per year. So while it’s true that the California budget has grown a lot in the past five years, decade-to-decade comparisons through an entire economic cycle don’t make things look quite so bad. Too bad about that stock market crash, though.

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